Why This Florida Host Says Camper Feedback is Key to His Top-Rated Hipcamp

For Michael, being a Star Hipcamp Host wasn’t his original goal when he joined the platform in 2017. The Host of Springs/Nature Paradise attributes the landscape — which affords water-sport aficionados near unlimited opportunities —  for his property’s popularity. Still, he says that being open to feedback is something Hipcampers appreciate, and it’s something that has elevated his Hipcamp to one of Florida’s top camping destinations. We chatted with Michael to learn more about his land, his Host philosophy, and about how a genuine smile can go a long way.

Hipcamp: Tell us about your land and what makes it special.

Michael: In a word, waterfront. Our property is located on the beautiful Santa Fe River in north-central Florida, as well as being a short walk from the year-round, crystal clear, Ichetucknee River. This river is spring fed and only runs about 5 miles before merging with the Santa Fe River just downriver from the campsite.  With two rivers to choose from, there are activities for everyone whether its boating, paddling, or fishing the Santa Fe, or tubing, swimming, or snorkeling the Ichetucknee — it’s all within 200 yards of the property. Lastly, with over a third of an acre dedicated to this campsite, Hipcampers have plenty of room to pursue their passion in whatever means they choose from tents to the largest of RVs.

Hipcamp: Your Hipcamp was ranked the second best place to camp in Florida in 2018. What’s makes your site so popular with Hipcampers?

Michael: Well, I think part of it is the destination, with my property on the Santa Fe River and then the Ichetucknee River no more than 200 yards away. There’s a lot to do if you’re into water sports. If it has to do with water, you can pretty much do it here.

Hipcamp: Why did you decide to join Hipcamp and to allow campers on your land?

Michael: When we bought the property, we invited friends and family to enjoy it with us.  Some family members came in their RVs and the only place we had for them was where we parked our RV.  So, we decided to make a new spot on the unused lot next to us, and from there we decided that others should enjoy this area, not just us.

Hipcamp: Did you have any reservations about opening up your land to strangers?

Michael: At first, I did have some reservations, but I’ve been camping for the majority of my life. What I’ve found is that by and large, folks that camp, whether that be in a tent or whether that be in a multimillion-dollar motor home, are good people with good intentions. I’ve never had any issues with folks I’ve camped with. So it’s not something I really worry about.

Your imagination is the only limiting factor.

Hipcamp: What do you tell campers about your land?

Michael: We’re centrally located to over 18 major springs and three rivers (Santa Fe, Ichetucknee, Suwannee) with a boat ramp 150 yards up river.  No matter your water-borne passion, we can accommodate it at this property. Campers participate in boating, fishing, paddling, tubing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and springs exploration. If water is not your thing, then the peace and quiet of the woods and nature can be enjoyed at the site with lots of wildlife. It’s up to you to determine what kind of experience you have here. Your imagination is the only limiting factor.

Hipcamp: How would you describe your land in three words?

Michael: Springs, Nature, Paradise

Hipcamp: Why is sharing your land important to you?

Michael: There are not a lot of places like this, and it’s important to us to share it with people for purposes of conserving our natural resources and enjoying its beauty for years to come.

Hipcamp: What is your favorite part about listing your land on Hipcamp?

Michael: Meeting new and interesting people and sharing with them the small slice of heaven we call home.  We enjoy being a small part in making a memory for someone that they will enjoy for a lifetime.

Hipcamp: When is the best time to camp at your property? Why?

Michael: Year-round. It’s all dependent on the activities you choose to engage in and your ideal camping trip.  If swimming, tubing, snorkeling, and boating are your thing, then the late spring, summer, early fall are your best times.  If paddling is your thing, then that is year-round; however, fall through spring is when the Ichetucknee allows paddling from the head spring.  Of course, if you’re just looking to get away, then there’s no better time to do that than anytime you want.

Hipcamp: Are you planning to make any improvements or additions to your Hipcamp?

Michael: We are. We recently added a platform with a swing and bench down near the water for relaxing.  We will be replacing our portable toilet with a permanent one to make that experience a little more friendly.  We will have some kayaks and a canoe for rent if the camper so chooses. We will be adding the ability to add-on firewood at the time of booking.  We’re looking at some overhead lighting on the campsite that is controlled by the camper for late arrivals.

Hipcamp: What is your most memorable experience with Hipcampers?

Michael: There are so many to choose from it’s hard to decide, as we get to meet some great people.  For me, it would have to be getting to host a couple of restaurateurs from the Tampa area. They stopped in for a weekend in their airstream, and we just had a great time talking and getting to know them.  They are a wonderful couple with amazing stories and they just love life. They were very gracious and giving, and our dogs loved them as well. They went out of their way and bought us a gift for hosting them and invited us to visit them at their restaurant.  They recently called to see if the site was available for a last-minute get away, but unfortunately it was not. I know our paths will cross again, and I’m looking forward to it.

Hipcamp: What is your most memorable experience with Hipcamp?

Michael: It would have to be the time I worked with support on a bug in the listing rankings. I received a couple emails from Hipcamp engineers thanking me for bringing that to their attention and since I’m in IT, it was nice to have them realize the issue and help resolve it. Hipcamp really does care about their hosts and truly does listen regarding feedback and additions to the platform.

Hipcamp: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about becoming a camp host?

Michael: First, have fun.  It’s about meeting people and sharing a portion of your life with them.  Yes, it makes you somewhat vulnerable, but you could help create a memory for someone that can last a lifetime.  Second, take pride in your property and make it the best you can with what you have. You want the stay to be memorable for your guest.  Lastly, go the extra mile for your guests. Most will appreciate it, and it will be reflected in your feedback.

Hipcamp: How do you go the extra mile for your Hipcampers?

Michael: It’s not something I guarantee for each camper, but you know, if they’re tent camping, a lot of times I’ll put firewood out into the fire pit for them and set it up with a little fire starter underneath it. That goes a long way, especially for tent campers who were coming in and they got to set up. I feel like it gives them a little bit more value. I think the other thing is just being available. Just saying “if you’re worried about something, just give me a call and I’ll come right down.”

Ask for candid feedback, especially about improvements to the experience.

Hipcamp: What about advice for someone who’s already a camp host?

Michael: Ask for candid feedback, especially about improvements to the experience. I encourage my guests to tell me what they would like to see and then consider if those changes are feasible and would be well received by a larger population.  It’s the little things. Smile, and be happy when your guests arrive. Walk out to them, greet them cheerfully. Being nice doesn’t cost anything and is 100 percent within your control.

Hipcamp: What’s one thing you want visitors to take away from your property?

Michael: I want my guests to reflect on their stay here with fond memories and positive experiences.  I want their trip to transport them to a good place and it be one of those memories that is shared repeatedly with family and friends when the conversation turns to “remember that time when we…”

Hipcamp: Do you engage in land stewardship or restoration efforts? If so, how?

Michael: Not necessarily land, but water conservation, specifically protecting our rivers and springs.  I work with local organizations to fight commercial operations that threaten the rivers and springs.  A major win in this battle was the stopping of the Sabal Trail pipeline that was planned to bore underneath the Ichetucknee river.  That was stopped after many calls, emails, and community meetings with the different state environmental agencies.

Hipcamp: What are your dreams for your property?

Michael: I am considering clearing another property I own off the river, but more secluded, and adding it to the portfolio of my campsites.  My dream would be to have a few properties around me allowing people to come from all around to stay and enjoy the area.

Inspired by Michael’s experience hosting? Share your land with responsible campers:

Shane is an award-winning journalist based in Oakland. As a freelance writer, he’s passionate about covering the LGBTQ+ community, at-risk youth and local news. He's a former Hoodline editor, and his work regularly appears in Oakland Magazine and The San Francisco Business Times. When he's not writing, Shane is an avid baker, gardener and tennis player.

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